Back to school after Ebola

Photos by Sarah Grile

Patrick Poopei, 7, in Liberia, entered a higher grade for the new school year in September after passing his end-of-term exams before the summer break. Like most Liberian children, he played with his friends and spent time with his family during the break. And like many Liberian children, Patrick and his family have been affected by Ebola.

Patrick and his father, William, are Ebola survivors. And while his brother, Jeremiah, didn’t contract the virus, their mother did — but she did not survive. “I want them to be free, not thinking of what happened, so I bought this puppy for them,” their father said.

“I try to give Patrick and Jeremiah toys and things I can afford”, William adds. “When I can’t, I say, ‘My man, I can’t afford [it]. Let us bear [it] for now.’” Patrick and Jeremiah (at left and at right) play with a neighbour on their verandah, during a downpour in Monrovia’s Paynesville suburb.

Whenever William leaves the house, Patrick (at home) always wants to know where he is going, how long he will be out, and when he will return. “We don’t talk about it, but I know he misses his mother. In the morning, he gets close to me and hugs me like he did with his mother,” William says.

William says he will miss his son’s company when Patrick is at school — especially during their walks to the Red Light marketplace, near their home. “He is always looking all over the place while walking down the street, and I say to him, ‘My man…look in front of you’. He is curious to know.”

Patrick often goes with his father to the lumber yard where he used to work before he contracted Ebola in 2014. “I want to now go back to working [there]…,” William says. “I need to have a steady job to be able to sustain me and them.” However, someone else now has his job.

“I am the father, I am the mother…,” said William, who registered Patrick for school at the end of August. “I got all the forms and information. Before, when I was at work, my wife used to do all of this. … Take them to school and bring them back. Now, all the burden I have been taking it.”

“It costs [lots of] money to put him and Jeremiah in a good school. But I want him and his brother to have a good education and be independent, and be able to live good lives,” William says, proud that his children are both in a higher grade. “I want to be a businessman,” Patrick says.

Written by Rukshan Ratnam & Olga Chambers.

Learn more about UNICEF’s Ebola response.

About the Client: UNICEF is the agency of the United Nations mandated to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential. Guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child UNICEF strives to establish children's rights as international standards of behavior towards children. UNICEF's role is to mobilise political will and material resources to help countries ensure a "first call for children". UNICEF is committed to ensuring special protection for the most disadvantaged children. UNICEF carries out its work through its headquarters in New York, 8 regional offices and 125 country offices world-wide. UNICEF also has a research centre in Florence, a supply operation based in Copenhagen and offices in Tokyo and Brussels. Its 37 committees for UNICEF raise funds and spread awareness about the organizations mission and work.